Acura's all-new 2009 TSX is ready to battle its primary declared competition the "entry premium" models from German brands BMW, Audi and Mercedes. Based on the European Honda Accord, the second-generation TSX grows slightly while adopting the angular new "Keen-edge" styling motif that is meant to distinguish the Acura brand.
Available only as a four-door sedan, the new car is 2.4 inches longer on a 1.3-inch-longer wheelbase. It's a full three inches wider, though, which means 3.6 cubic feet more space for passengers, experienced as more hip and leg room, especially in the back seat.
Acura's target group for this car is professional, college-educated men and women in their late twenties to early thirties (just less than half married). By offering the TSX loaded with the amenities found on competing vehicles, they hope to entice a few more folks, too. As the smallest Acura, its role as entry to the brand couldn't be more important for Acura's long-term success.
That means that there is no "base" model. Every TSX get power-adjusted leather seats, dual-zone climate control, fat leather-wrapped steering wheel, new automatic headlamps and dash-mounted compass, and, of course, power windows, locks, and mirrors. The shift knob has a stylish silvery top with leather barrel shaped body a little extra visual and tactile experience. A seven-speaker audio system with XM satellite radio is standard, too, along with a handy USB connection for your iPod.
The TSX offers one engine an efficient yet sprightly 2.4-liter dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder that puts out 201 horsepower and 172 lb.-ft. of torque through the front wheels. Fuel economy ratings are a respectable 20 City and 28 Highway with the standard six-speed manual, and, surprisingly, a slightly better 21/30 with the five-speed sequential-shifting automatic (available at no extra cost). This proves that automotive computers are now officially smarter than human drivers. One assumes that they do not actually enjoy driving, however.
I got a commendable 27.7 mpg during my test week, but most of my miles were on the freeway, driving to visit my new granddaughter, Naomi.
With EPA Green Vehicle Guide ratings of 7 for Air Pollution and 6 (manual transmission) or 7 (automatic) for Greenhouse Gas, the new TSX is on the clean end of the scale, despite its position as a sports sedan, not a fuel miser.
Enjoyment is a big part of the role of this new Acura TSX. With its sophisticated front double-wishbone and rear multi-link suspension, front and rear stabilizer bars, drive-by-wire throttle, and new electric power steering, you get a responsive, high-tech interface with the road.
You experience all this while settled into a driver-oriented interior that's more luxurious and interesting than its predecessor's. The sweep of the dash, with integrated door handles, feels BMW-like. The sport seats are supportive but soft in the right places. The console offers various bins for stashing your gear. The instrument panel gauges are floating metal disks, with centerless needles, leaving room inside for useful information, such as fuel economy information and alert messages.
As with all Honda and Acura products, safety is a prime concern. This TSX has six airbags, new for 2009 active head restraints, and the Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) system, which distributes crash energy more efficiently, hopefully preserving the passengers. The TSX receives top five-star crash ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
My Glacier Blue Metallic tester included the Technology Package, which besides upgrading the audio system to 10 speakers, provides Acura's state-of-the-art Navigation system, complete with Zagat Guide restaurant ratings. You also get Acuralink Real-time traffic and weather information.
I tested this, and the screen (and voice) told me what was going on, but much of the information was not immediately relevant to my position or direction. Fascinating nonetheless to get updated reports immediately instead of waiting for the radio to report every ten minutes which accidents it feels like mentioning (never the one causing your traffic jam). It's tempting to look away from the road, however, so it's best to use these high-tech systems judiciously.
My tester came to $32,820, including shipping charges. TSX models start at $29,720. The TSX with Technology Package is about the same price as the entry level BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C300, and Audi A4.
However, in the battle for customers, the 201-horsepower TSX has two challenges engine size/power and the prestige factor. The A4 offers a 211-horsepower 4-cylinder (and a much more expensive 265-horsepower V6), but the BMW and Mercedes start with 6-cylinders, rated at 230 and 228 horsepower respectively. As for prestige, can the Acura nameplate compete yet with the German big three? Four-dollar-a gallon gas may be the TSX's ally in bringing in some new customers who appreciate its high-efficiency performance.